Gurmeet Ram Rahim jailed: Meet Sudesh Kumari, the woman who braved odds to get justice for a sadhvi
Jan Sangharsh Manch convenor Sudesh Kumari was so touched by the plight of a sadhvi who was raped many times by Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim that she decided to fight for her until she got justice.
Sudesh Kumari travels in the general compartment. She is not a known face on TV channels, among champions of the cause for women. But she works quietly to make democracy tick. Kumari empathised with the two sadhvis who accused Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim of sexual exploitation because "the matter was such, how could she not be with them". It all began when she learnt about the anonymous letter written by the two women against the Dera head at Sachcha Sauda at Sirsa. "I continued to talk to her and felt her pain."
In June 2002, the copy of the anonymous letter came to her, she was the convenor of Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), Haryana. Then on 10 July, the same year, the murder of Ranjit Singh in Khanpur Koliyan, a village close to Kurukshetra made her realise the gravity of the situation. She went to see the young sister of Ranjit Singh. The letter had made it clear that one of the sadhvis, who accused the Baba of rape was from Kurukshetra whose brother was a member of the powerful state committee member of the Dera, who later left it.
The young sadhvi was scared to death. She pleaded Kumari, "My father too would be killed. Please demand a CBI enquiry in the rape and murder of my brother. The Baba is too powerful." Then in October 2002, the anonymous letter was published by Pura Sach, a local newspaper published from Sirsa. On 21 November 2002, Ramchandra Chhatrapati, the editor of the paper was also murdered. This confirmed beyond doubt who was behind the murders and why. The Dera wanted to silence the people fearing the contents of the letter would become public. When no media house published the letter, with the help of the Haryana Union of Journalists, Kumari and her friends observed a condolence meeting in honour of Chhatrapati and asked people to take an oath to help the victim’s family. People promised but things didn't move.
Irked, they published a four-page pamphlet and distributed it in thousands to the general public. The pamphlet recounted circumstantial evidence of Baba’s involvement in rape and murder. Men arrested for both murders had guns registered in the name of Dera, one of the accused arrested in Chhatrapati’s murder was the body guard of Baba.
In December 2002, during Geeta Festival, when lakhs throng Kurukshetra, JSM decided to distribute pamphlets and present the demand for CBI enquiry from the visiting vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in the sexual exploitation case of the sadhvis. Instead, the local police arrested the members of the Manch, headed by the JSM convenor, and didn't let them come out till the vice-president was in town.
This incident made them aware of the might of the man they were fighting, he had the state in his pockets. They organised themselves and worked on a three pronged strategy; organise camps to take public signatures, put posters on buses and public places, distribute the pamphlets and organise protests. They organised signature camps at Pipli, Sonipat, Hisar, Kaithal, Jind, Rohtak etc., leaving Sirsa, where they were threatened for life.
On 5 February, 2003, when they were peacefully holding a camp in Fatehabad to collect people’s signatures a mob from the Dera attacked them, took away women’s chunnis, snatched their purses and earrings. Even the bus fare they had with them was taken away, the glue used for posters was smeared on their face. All the papers with public signatures were torn before them. When they called the police, the cops instead arrested all 14 members of JSM, nine women and five men, on charges of attempt to murder. Sections 307, 303, 149 and 148 were slapped on the peaceful team.
The charge was that they beat members of Dera with serious injuries to life, certified by a government doctor. They had no lawyer, but Harjit Sigh Sandhu and a few more lawyers fought their case without taking a penny for six long years.
"The Bar Association of Fatehabad and Kurukshetra demanded in one voice our release, still the charge sheet produced by police used section 307 against us. But people had seen what happened, they supported us. The young sadhvi, who was shaken after her brother’s murder, and was also facing problems in her personal life said when we were released, "Why did you go to jail for me?"
Harjinder Kaur was only a college student when she went to jail under 307 and Bhuvnesh was a student of class 11, now he is a doctor.
"Our courage gave her hope, she was wavering fearing for her father’s life, but after this incident, she stood firm like a rock. You know how difficult it is for an Indian woman to go to a police station under normal circumstances. She was standing against the might of a man supported by the state machinery," the JSM convenor said.
"Wouldn't I feel dead inside if I left her? I could never know what it's like to be in her shoes. I could only walk with her," Kumari said.
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